Opinion: Faith, men, and the terrorist misogyny that won’t be named

Photo by nikohoshi on Unsplash
Monday 22 April 2024

By Mark Kenny

A version of this article was originally published by The Canberra Times.

LORD save us from these churchy politicians and their reflexive nodding to ancient patriarchal dogmas.

Attorney General Mark Dreyfus confirmed on Friday that the Albanese Government is now confident that religious anti-discrimination legislation will be introduced within months, after constructive talks on the still secret proposal with the Opposition’s Michaelia Cash.

Why, you might well ask? Where is the broad community clamour for exempting faith groups from anti-discrimination laws designed to protect citizens? No such clamour existed when Scott Morrison tried to foist religious privilege on the nation and it is not there now.

Rather, developments here and abroad suggest that overall, we might benefit from less religious obsequiousness in our society, not more. Not stronger protections for religions but stronger protections from them.

Like much of the world, Australia was already on tenterhooks over the reckless carnage of civilians in Gaza, the unfathomable return of a Bible-spruiking vulgarian in the White House, and deepening socio-economic and environmental problems at home.

Then came a murderous rampage targeting women at Bondi Junction in Sydney’s inner-east and just two nights later, a brutal live-streamed stabbing of a bigoted priest in western Sydney’s suburb of Wakeley.

Ratcheting up the pressure on Friday, the right-wing government of the Jewish state of Israel launched a second missile attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran, inviting a further escalation in the dangerous proto-war both religiously dominated states seem intent on.

While there are many different circumstances here, all of these violent episodes expose, either in their motivations or in their interpretation, the divisive power of religious supremacy and hatreds.

At a time of declining trust and resurgent cultism, the world is becoming more ungovernable, more violent, and worryingly less liberal. This is no co-incidence.

Thanks to credulous politicians, faith remains an uninterrogated social good. Yet its intensification under this special dispensation, not good at all.

Increasingly belligerent religious movements threaten to unpick the shining achievement of Westphalian sovereignty in which nation states are self-contained, their populations owing allegiance to no external religious authority.

This brings us to the difficult questions raised by the starkly different facts – and reporting – of the two knife attacks in Sydney.

First, to the obvious talking point about Sydney’s traumatic week. The deadly Bondi attack in which women were specifically targeted, was not designated as a terrorist incident whereas the non-deadly Wakeley assault was.

The latter was allegedly undertaken by a radicalised 16-year old Muslim boy who has since been charged under terror laws which carry harsher penalties and provide police with stronger powers. His violence is said to have been religiously, and therefore, politically motivated thus constituting and act of terrorism.

An angry crowd gathered outside the Wakeley church immediately after the assault, terrorising paramedics and police officers with violence and vandalism. These dangerous assaults in which 51 police officers were injured – purportedly by Assyrian Christian supporters of the stricken clergyman – were not deemed to be terrorism. News reporting on the motivations of this mob on Monday night and through Tuesday remained so cautious as to be almost protective. It was not clear to the average reader if the mob had been pro-attacker (Muslim) or pro-clergy (Christian).

It turned out to be the latter. But why the mystery? This bizarre vacuum told you they were had not been Muslims thronging outside, but Assyrian Christians. As did the Opposition’s more measured response.

The proposition that an act of terrorism had been perpetrated by a person of Muslim faith however, was far easier to discern.

Two days before, the stabbing murder of five anonymous women – and one man who had tried to intervene, security guard, Faraz Tahir – was declared not to be terrorism because the violent spree in which more than a dozen of women were targeted was not ideologically motivated.

Really? This was an attack against women to express a viewpoint – that is, because they were women. As far as we know, none was known to the attacker, whose volcanic misogyny was so severe he even stabbed a female infant. This therefore is the targeting of a class of person within Australian society – in this case women – just as it could have been about race or religion. But what? Because it was an obscene hatred of women, it does not qualify as an extreme manifestation of ideology?

The perpetrator of these heinous acts, Joel Cauchi was frustrated “out of his brain” at not having a girlfriend his distraught father explained.

For this, he blamed women. There is a whole online movement of men, known as Incels (for involuntary celibates), expressing this extreme rage against women.

Not terrorism? Women around the country certainly felt the terror. They read the message here – give over, or pay the price. Yield or die. In a country that tolerates appalling levels of male-on-female violence and an unconscionable death rate from these attacks, the deliberate slaughter of random women simply for being sovereign was as political as it gets.

For authorities to decide summarily this was not an ideologically driven massacre when there was no personal link between the murderer and his victims chosen exclusively on gender, was premature and contradictory.

Or as outspoken feminist Mona Eltahawy wrote after the attack, “if terrorism means politically-motivated violence intended to scare its target into changing the way they behave, then surely targeting women because they are women and because women refuse to date you is terrorism.”

Clearly this was political. It was a fanatical statement written in blood by someone who must have presumed his own death in the process.

With Cauchi, the issue of mental illness is also raised as a factor, but since when is a grip on the real world the critical benchmark? Ask yourself, did that maniacally grinning Muslim kid pinned down inside the Christian church strike you as particularly normal or balanced?

Yet he was treated immediately as a terrorist.

Mark Kenny is the Director of the ANU Australian Studies Institute and host of the Democracy Sausage podcast.

Updated:  23 April 2024/Responsible Officer:  Institute Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications